Violence in the home and between family members is a corrosive issue in Solomon Islands, across the Pacific region and around the world.
Today (25 November) is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which marks the start of the international ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence’ campaign.
By global standards, Solomon Islands has a very low crime rate. It is a safe country. In partnership with the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), Solomon Islanders have laid the foundation for long-term peace over the last 13 years: weapons have been removed from communities, people walk safely in the streets and businesses prosper.
Still, family violence – which is committed predominantly against women and girls, and includes physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse – out-numbers and out-ranks all other crimes committed in Solomon Islands.
Horrifyingly, studies show that around two in three women in Solomon Islands have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner and that the first sexual experience for more than one in three Solomon Islands’ women was forced or coerced. By deduction, this probably means that a similarly high proportion of men are perpetrators of such violence.
Violence against women and girls – and, of course, men and boys as well – leaves ugly physical and psychological scars on its victims, their families and communities, and the nation’s law enforcement and support services. It also impacts on the emotional development and behaviour of children and can create a cycle of violence, in which sons and daughters grow up to abuse their partners and children.
This is why I say that, statistically, the home is the most dangerous place to be in Solomon Islands.
Pleasingly, however, successive governments, civil society groups and law enforcement agencies have recognised that abuse and violence destroy families and communities, which for thousands of years have formed the building blocks of Solomon Islands’ society.
This morning (25 November) representatives from the Government, the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF), RAMSI and civil society came together on the streets of Honiara to re-commit and galvanise further support to combat violence against women. Maybe you saw us marching?
To be frank, I have been impressed by this nation’s commitment to tackling family and gender-based violence. Bringing the Family Protection Act into force this year was a landmark step and an important reminder that violence in the home is not a private matter. The new law sent a clear message that all violence is a crime, and it will not be tolerated or ignored just because it happened behind closed doors or between family members or wantok.
On the frontline, RSIPF officers are reaching out to communities across the nation, explaining the law, encouraging victims and witnesses to report violence, investigating reports, and prosecuting offenders. They are also working closely with community leaders to address the drivers of violence against women and girls, particularly alcohol and drug abuse.
I encourage all Solomon Islanders to work with the police to help end the living nightmares experienced by far too many women in this country. For its part, RAMSI will certainly continue to support the RSIPF in this noble task until we leave in June next year.
But it is not just up to the police to stop the violence. The upcoming 16 days of activism is designed to remind us that ending violence against women starts with individuals.
When I took up the role of Special Coordinator I made a commitment to continuing the fight against gender-based violence. I believe that men can be champions of change. Men must stand up and say ““naf nao” (enough now) to violence. Men, I believe, should make a commitment to use conversation rather than violence to resolve issues, to take a leadership role in creating peace in their own homes, and to keep their families safe.
This reflects Christian teachings. This starts at home.
by Quinton Devlin, RAMSI Special Coordinator